What is root cause? The definition of root cause is the initial action that started a problematic chain of events. Tools for continuous improvement, like 5 Whys problem solving, are possible because of the premise that there is a underlying cause for everything.
Here’s an example. Imagine you find coolant on the ground by a machine. You can mop it up, and move on. Tomorrow, though, there will likely be more fluid on the ground. You can look for where it is coming from, and swap out a seal or a pump. It might hold for a while, but there will likely be some more fluid on the ground before too long. If you search the system for the reason for the pump leak, maybe you will find that a filter is missing-letting metal shavings get into the pump.
If you don’t deal with the shavings, the root cause of the problem, you will continue to have repeated difficulties.
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It takes a lot of discipline to make sure you do a root cause analysis on problems rather than leaping to conclusions about what is going on. The definition of a root cause analysis is simply the act of going through a systematic process to identify the source of a problem. The most common method is the 5 Why analysis.
Watch out for this pitfall: Many people think they know how to fix something, and will immediately start working on that problem. If it is not the root cause, they are just working on a symptom. The problem will return.
I want to stress this: always do a root cause analysis! It is such a simple thing to do, and yet people frequently skip it. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to solve a problem once and for all.